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FMLA isn’t carte blanche for all sick leave

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in FMLA Guidelines,Management Training

Some employees with chronic health conditions mistakenly believe that getting approved for intermittent FMLA leave means they can take protected time off anytime they feel ill. That’s simply not true.

Intermittent leave can only be taken for illness, treatment or flare-ups directly related to a condition for which a health care provider has certified intermittent leave.

Employers can and should tally other absences according to their attendance policies. That means employees can even be terminated for missing work for other conditions that don’t qualify as a serious health condition and the employee doesn’t have any other available time off.

Recent case: Kelvin Greer worked for the Cleveland Clinic as a support services assistant. He cleaned, brought meals, moved patients and delivered medications throughout the hospital.

Greer had a hand injury that required surgery, and he took time off to recover. He was then diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, but controlled the condition with diet and blood sugar testing. He did, however, develop an ulcer on his foot that caused pain until it healed.

Greer got FMLA leave for a few weeks for hand treatments. This was followed by intermittent leave over the following month, as approved by his doctor. The doctor’s certification specified that Greer needed intermittent leave time for doctor’s appointments and treatments related to his hand injury.

Greer missed work several times during the month without explanation. The hospital counted them as unexcused absences, and eventually fired Greer for accruing too many absenteeism points.

He sued, alleging the hospital interfered with his FMLA intermittent leave.

The court rejected his argument. It said that Greer failed to show that his absences were for hand treatments and appointments, not some other reason. (Greer v. Cleveland Clinic, No. 1:10-CV-1624, ND OH, 2011)

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